Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Welcome to the Party

By Bill Benda, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

Photo by LS Lam via Flickr, used under the Creative Commons License.
I spent this past weekend at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine, where I teach a 50-hour emergency medicine course to students who must sit there and wonder, “Why am I learning this stuff?” But today’s rant is not about conventional vs. alternative or botanical vs. pharmaceutical, but about a more pervasive political movement apparently sweeping the country and, yes, our own little naturopathic family.

I often break up the classroom monotony of trauma and myocardial infarctions and wound closure with philosophical diversions – public policy, healthcare reform, influence of the neutraceutical industry on medical education, and such. But this past weekend we talked a bit about the Tea Party, and how its not just for mainstream politics anymore.

You see, this strange wave of populism that has taken us all by surprise is lapping at the shores of our particular profession as well as flooding the red and blue bastions of conservative and liberal thinking across the land. As an MD, I have limited interest in such important clinical ND issues as CPT codes and scope of practice – these simply do not impact my personal life. But I am fascinated by the internal politics of this field and the personalities that nudge and pull on the ship of naturopathic medicine like tugboats, each chugging towards its own desired destination. And what I see in today’s political horizon is our own little populist movement announcing unhappiness with the status quo and calling rather insistently for that nebulous yet ubiquitous concept of change.

What kind of change is, as with the rest of the country, still a bit nebulous and undefined, but we will let this detail work itself out over the ensuing months. The fact is that, as an AANP Board member for the past four years, I have been able to identify and get to know a few of the players and a few of the issues. The AANP, its Board, its executive director, the state associations, their Boards, their executive directors, the schools, their presidents, past AANP presidents, future AANP presidents, journalists (including myself), the Academic Consortium for Complementary and Alternative Health Care (ACCAHC), the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the Naturopathic Coordinating Council (NCC), the Naturopathic Medical Student Association (NMSA) and on. And on. Tugboats pulling and pushing on the good ship Naturopathy. Stay the course. Change direction. Return to the past. Dive into the future. Toot toot.

Before any of the above mentioned begin to take this analogy a bit too personally, I wish to make one point quite clear: This is all a very, very good thing. Should we take a look at our national political system as a larger illustration, I believe we must come to the conclusion that no matter our individual views on the Tea Party movement and its leaders, we cannot but admit that our current political system has become mired in dysfunction and inertia, and it may well take an entity as disruptive as the Tea Party to shake some sense into us. In the same vein, I believe it is time for the profession of naturopathic medicine, at the national, state, academic, political, media, and individual levels to take a long, hard look at our own dysfunctions and inertia (We all have them! Yes we do!) and come to a communal course of, well, change. Naturopathy is no longer under the social and professional assault from that it was twenty years ago. Conventional medicine is no longer the ogre trying to eat our children (well, maybe the AMA might still be). We must put past thinking where it belongs – in the past.

So change is in the air, as it must be. But we must realize that change does not mean returning to past thinking, or past policies. It does, however, require transparency and openness on the part of those instigating change. Personal agendas have no place here, and will serve only to create further dysfunction and inertia. Unfortunately for me, I will no longer have a front row seat after December 31st, when my Board term expires.

But I’ll be watching from the sidelines nonetheless . . .

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